Kayaking with Kids
Gathered, Annotated and Submitted by Tracy Newell
I would like to preserve the information in the recent thread posted by Dennis Maddock, “Kayaking Kids” and add a bit more I have found here and there.
A Kid’s Perspective…
“Conquering a Fear of Rolling, an interview with Dane Jackson, age 10”
Teaching Kids to Kayak, post from kayakforum.com, a sea kayaking forum.
The first question I can answer is, I have taught a lot of kids, sea, flat water, ww, and sprint race.
I once taught a class of 30 deaf kids- I finally asked the interpreter to go away, the kids were teaching me just fine (I have forgotten how to say "you butthead" in ASL).
Anyway, one key thing is to get them in the water, and goof of with the boats. Wet entries are great ( boat upside down, they have to get in holding breath, tap the boat when they get in, you roll them up), washing machine, snickers bars (mini ones) for breaking their own record holding breath before wet exiting, jumping up on one end of an upturned boat and seeing how far they can run on the hull before they fall in... lots more, you get the idea? Adults often come with a big barrier to learning because they think tipping over, or being in the water, is failure.
I have taught 10 year olds to roll, it is partly getting a decent fit but also preparing them as mentioned above (one of my favorites- a 10 yr old, sitting in an eddy, asking, "can I try my roll, and if I can't is it ok if I wet exit?" well...sure). And I have had kids roll boats that were way too big for them...
Another idea? Fat boats are comforting to parents, deadly dull to kids. Put 'em in a narrow boat (even by our standards), they will do well, and learn quickly. Good to have them paddle with their hands only.
If the boat is very manuverable, have them make their own slalom course (I use tennis balls), then try again only paddling on one side (if it is a TAP, have them use only one part of the "split", like a canoe paddle).
And take them shorter distances with lots of interest- eddies, waves, teensie shore break. Remember most are used to video games, and paddling long distance, even if capable, is dull. Fun is playing with the boat, if the conditions are not there (best), then improvise. More tennis balls; sitting on the back part of the coaming and see how far one can paddle before falling in, standing up in the boat and trying to paddle...see how this can lead to skills such as a cowboy self rescue? Even towing!
Most important, you should also try all this. It will improve your own skills, humble you, and wish you had started paddling much younger. - Kyle
From the Missouri Whitewater Thread, originally posted by Dennis Maddock April 4, 2008:
Current thoughts on kid kayaking...
I've got a 10 yr old son and i've had him fiddling with boating about a year. I'm by no means an expert but I have learned a few things.
sorry for long post but i'd also like to hear what other parents have learned. i'm pretty much working in a vacuum.
-first tip is find a kid 2 years older and younger to chain the gear along. you'll end up tying up some cash but will hopefully not lose too much in value.
-boat: you have to go LIGHT in weight. We're doing a 1.5 now I think it weighs like 23 lbs. I don't mean to be a walking Jackson commercial but you have to stick in the low 20s on weight. and this boat has been great. One tip is get hip pads right. We tried a small older adult kayak (inazone 212). it was super stable but he couldn't maneuver it and had no chance at rolling it. Be ready because you will be trading in and out of boats. I went new on this one but I'm already lining up selling it to a buddy for his son (who's 2 years younger). and i'm actively shopping for a used fun 2 now (in advance). so far they seem to be holding values pretty well so I'm expecting to eat about $75 to $125 on each size we move through.
-paddle: we did the kids sized seven2. it's been pretty solid and priced well. it has "grips" which really helped with hand indexing. the main concern i've had with it is that it's black and doesn't float well so it may disappear on a swim. we haven't had a paddle swim yet.
-hand paddles: we're fiddling with these in the pool and have limited use on the river. very easy rapids and me right next to him. i'm just worried about wet exits. he's had to do one and it went well but it makes for a nervous dad. google search "riveraholic" for kid sized ones.
-astral kid's pfd has been great. highly recommend.
-protech ace helmet. fits well and is light. it hasn't been called into "action" yet.
-my son wears glasses so we found prescription goggles (also does swim team so we needed some anyway - AC Lens I think). it's been a great answer. especially since you have limited vision in river water, it's a big confidence thing. I almost can't over emphasize this one.
-drytop: we did out first cold water paddling this spring break (memphis WW Creek Week) so it was out first experience. getting a gasketed top on and off is really tough and frustrating because kid's heads are huge to body size/strength. I didn't cut but have used 303 and stretching. We also have at least 2 adults wrench it on/off him. I found a lightly used adult small which has worked out. We'll get two seasons out of it I guess. Again, I'm already shopping and lining up a sale. (and hey, i've got a hydrosilk base layer listed in gear exchange!)
-harmony LC1 skirt with XS tube has been perfect.
So now river and paddling wise:
-we did a bunch of commercial rafting first (weeklong trip on green rvr utah, nanty, etc). from that he really picked up that ww is fun and splashy and not terrifying... but safety is important. in proper situations, we swim rapids when we can (still do). again, a big confidence builder for my son.
-we've been fiddling with a hard boat about a year. being in memphis, spontaneous river time is tough so we try to get pool time in. At pool time, i try not to make it all about working on the roll. we do a lot of swamping his boat to enter and exit under water, use the cockpit as a submarine, "surf" on the hull, i put on hand paddles and have him climb on me trying to flip me, play boat tag. often, i'll be out of my boat (him skirted) and i'll flip him around a bunch with me rolling him up (this really helped with idea of being upside down) on this you can also enforce keeping head down.
-his confidence and interest in rolling has come and gone. i've tried not to push it. a big issue for us has been whenever people see a youngster in boat the first thing they want to see is a roll. it's relentless. so when he started missing it, he got real self conscious about it (and we went through a time of dreading being in a boat so we took a break)
-there's just not many kids in boats (multiplied by memphis location) so there's lots of time with adults (good and bad). We've done a few runs with kids and I really think he likes it better. That's something to consider. There's been a few times he's just not wanted to spend so much time with no other kids.
-there's been a few days where just looking for rocks on the bank takes a priority over paddling. be prepared that you're not on your schedule. and a 4 hour activity is long for a 9 year old.
-his friends rarely relate to what we're doing (especially here). we've been doing this at the expense of traditional sports. just this week, he got challenged (by the athletic kids) that it's not a real sport so he did a presentation to his class. he did a great job with it but it goes back to that lack of friends in it thing.
-but so far the positives have been awesome. we've already spent some of the best days/nights together. and I can't wait to keep going.
-he's going to a summer camp in the carolinas this year. boating will be a big part of it. i'm hoping he really gets the bug as there'll be a bunch of kids into it there.
- Phil Lutey
Turned Out Okay
I have a little different perspective from this, cause I'm an adult now (34) and my dad started my brother and I in kayaking very young (my dad started paddling whitewater in the early 70s)
If anyone cares to hear this piece of advice, the single biggest thing he did was not force anything on us. He just took us to the pool early on, tossed us and our boat in and let us do what we wanted. During the Spring/Summer we'd go on family trips to lakes or float streams, he'd paddle his canoe, and if we wanted, we'd get in the kayaks. He didn't start teaching the roll until we asked for it.
He just waited for the bug to bite... and then he got two paddling buddies out of it.
I'm hoping the same approach will work with my daughter Ella, who at 20 months got her Fun 1 and a paddle she can barely lift.
- Erik Johnson
I have a son John who is now 22 who started very young but was not on the Saint till 6th grade. I tried to screw him up as much as I could boating but he seemed to over come that and become a great paddle buddy. We also started with a kayak on the streams in Missouri with the rest of the family in canoes. If he did not want to paddle he got in the canoe and we towed it down the river. We would stop to camp by a riffle and let them run it over and over. They could play all the wanted, fill it up with water, try to stand on it upside down, whatever. When he really wanted to run rivers we started. One thing I would also caution is that I did take him all the way down the Saint in the wrong weather and he had a bad day. It took a boating season to get over that. Make it fun and playful. Can not do too much on the local streams in Missouri. As far as kids boats the Dagger Blast is good, not as good as the Fun 1, but is cheaper but hard to find. GAF at NOC in the fall has used gear for kids a lot of times.
Tom Holdmeier, “Coach”
I have had the pleasure of teaching a number of kids about boating and have found that it is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. This topic is close to my heart! I have two grand daughters and three nephews as well. There is a wealth of good info here on this subject.
First thing? Your kids need to be comfortable in the water. One of my grand daughters had a hard time learning to swim and play in the water and it took a long time to get her in a boat. Complete opposite of the younger one! She didn’t want anything to do with boats. It looks fun to them but when they get in a canoe for the first time, for example, the way the boat “rocks”, tips, or moves can scare the bejeezus out of them. Even if they are good swimmers to begin with. They are naturally afraid of hitting the drink from a high & dry boat. We ended up getting the girls a sit-on-it for them to avoid the claustrophobia thing.
To avoid this, after they are good just being in the water, do what coach said. Get them out there and just play in the water with the boat as if it were a giant bathtub toy. Swamp it with them out of it. Let them swim in & out of it and sit in it swamped. When that gets comfortable, with it swamped, tip it and just let them slide right out. Turn it upside down and get under it and let them breath under it while talking to them. Make it a game for them. Make it fun. Laugh a lot! Let them stand in it, on it, dive off it, turn it over, etc. This helps alleviate the fear of tipping it and they will get comfortable enough to know that it is not the end of the world if they fall out of it. If you have a yak, put a cockpit cover, or spray skirt on it and let them play it boogie board style.
At first, don’t use a skirt. I did the same thing with my oldest nephew. No skirt, 3 day trip on the Buffalo (only 15 miles). He could make that boat do what he wanted in about 15 minutes and had been in the boat a little before the trip with all the above mentioned “sessions” under his belt. I showed him a bit about reading the water (“vee” or glass tongue to avoid the shallows) and launched him. He had the option of getting in his dad’s canoe at any time. To my surprise, we couldn’t pry him out of it and he didn’t want to stop to camp ‘til dark and he couldn't see anymore! Did the entire 15 miles in those three days! He was 8. He has done several of these types of trips, belted a couple of Clinics, has a decent roll, is surfing, and is on the fast track and loving it. He is now 12. We, too, stopped at places where it was swift with shoal and let him play. Same with the girls. Also, we use him for rope bait by letting him float downstream and we rope him out. He will do this all day if we let him while he trash talks us for missing him!. Plus he knows how to handle himself on the wet end of a rope, knows how to swim a rapid and get to an eddy. He’s also a pretty good rope wrangler himself, knows all the belays (even though he doesn’t have much weight), buddy belay, and has good basic rescue skills. Just because we made it fun for him to learn.
The girls love their sit-on-its. It is a stable platform for them and they fish from them, and insist on paddling their own boat. They love the independence it gives them. Remember your first car? Kind of like that! They don’t want to tandem anything! We stop for a break and in 5 minutes they are back in the boat fishing, jumping off it, or just generally screwing around. They, too, get to be rope bait and have the same skills as the boy on the wet side. Still a little young to be good throwers, but that doesn’t stop them from trying! After they get roped out, they can’t wait to get back up top and do it again! They are 11 and 7 and needless to say, we don't get far because of the little one, but we have a blast getting there!
We started them with kayak paddles because it is easier for them to control a boat with a double blade, making their learning curve shorter. I cut down a rec paddle to make it short enough for them to handle. A few years back I bought a family Jib to start these youngsters out on. The nephew is now paddling one of the Jackson kid boats.
As was mentioned, never force anything. That is the most detrimental thing you can do. It should be fun or you’re wasting your time. Don't get them on hard water for a good while and definitely ease them in to it. I have seen kids quit boating with one bad experience. Remember, they are having fun on the easy stuff. That's all they care about. You are the only one that wants them to do anything harder, not them. And eventually their natural curiousity will start to show. It may take a while and some patience, but it will happen and be worth it. Try to hook up with other parents/kids to do the same thing. The next nephew is in line and starting this year. He is watching his cousin having a blast and he can't wait to get on with it! They will have more desire if they have friends doing it. Plus, they don't want to hang with a bunch of adults around camp swilling beer! They are kids and want to run around being kids when they get off the water and when we want to sit down and relax.
Remember, you are building character, making memories, teaching values, safety, and instilling a passion. All in the name of having fun!
And what could be better than that?
I missed the thread, but this is what Joshua (eight years old) has taught me about kayaking with my kid, so far…
Joshua began paddling with me three years ago at age 5. He was using my EZG 42, a lotus half pint PFD, and a small wooden paddle I found at REI for about $20. We went to the lake and he enjoyed digging in the mud with the paddle! I took him out a few feet off shore a couple of times and pushed toward the shore, letting him “paddle to shore”.
At age 6, I hooked him up to a tow line and gave him his paddle and a couple of good sized squirt guns. I paddled around the lake as he “paddled” or kept Mom cooled off. I would take him off the tow line gradually farther from shore and let him paddle in at the end of our “trips”.
At 7 he decided he didn’t want to be towed anymore! His call. We went to George Winter Lake often, which has small coves, a quarry, the outlet and “islands” which we took lots of time to explore when we got there. I’d ask him or he would let me know where we were going and we paddled there together. Along the way, we played boat tag, and splashed each other with the front and back of our blades, and did lots of can you do this? (Both ways) Josh enjoyed imitating Mom paddling backward , forward and turning, even rocking the boat edge to edge! That summer Josh paddled his first rivers, the Current and the Black, both about 6 miles with little or no assistance from the tow line. On the Current Byron, Joshua and I dressed up in pirate costumes and pretend to be, in Joshua’s words, “the Captain of my own little ship.”
This year Joshua began to wonder when we could go kayaking again. At the time we were riding a ski lift, so I took this to be a good sign. I am currently outfitting his Jackson Shooting Star and have ordered a protect helmet (which we will be decorating with stickers) and a nylon spray skirt. I plan to introduce the wet exit and skirt this year as we paddle the lake. I am planning some family floats this summer because I noticed the big increase in interest Josh got when he paddled with Nathan last year. It was great to have a buddy his age to paddle with and to explore the sandbars and campground too. At this point I think that the most important thing to developing Josh’s paddling is to provide a balance of opportunities to paddle with Mom and with friends his own age. He loves his little boat and paddling and I am looking forward to enjoying kayaking with him for many years.
- Tracy Newell
Jackson Kayak Website, Family Corner Links:
Jackson Kayak Site: Boats, paddles kid-sized
JK Family Corner, “Gear for your little Kayaker”
JK Family Corner, “Families learning to Paddle Together…”
Good comments from all. I think Terry hit the nub with "As was mentioned, never force anything. That is the most detrimental thing you can do." I started kayaking as a kid with my dad, when it seemed most of the boaters were kids and dads. I enjoyed it and stayed with it for a variety of reasons:
1. My dad was super-protective to the point I thought he was over-protective. Looking back, it is far better to hold a kid back from what he wants to do but where he does not understand the difficulty/danger than it is to see your beloved child afraid to get back in the boat and finish a river, or worse, get hurt. I knew kids who had one bad experience (long swim; very cold day; even just a scary run), and never get back in a boat again. But then, the same thing happens with grown ups. I've often seen guys drag their wife/girlfriend where they want to boat but where she does not belong with the same effect.
2. There were other kids my age boating -- we had a lot of fun together. Dave Reker, Trick McNally, Doug White, and the girls I met at races are treasured parts of my teens.
3. In the earliest years, we spent more time swimming, building rock dams in side creeks, jumping off rope swings..... than we did in the boats. This page has a recurring them of keep it fun.
4. Short trips that quit while they are still having fun are better than long trips that turn into the Bataan death march.
5. Learning to boat is so much fun-- do not try to hurry it. We spent the entire first summer paddling on the Black. The summer I was 14, we went to Times Beach on the Merramac many times to practice rolling. All I ever did was flip over, panic and eject. He and my brother learned quickly. He never got mad at me, and by the end of the summer I had a roll. (lost it over the winter, but then every one seemed to lose their roll the first winter after learning one).
6. Be prepared to accept that kayaking might not be their thing. My daughter hates to be cold, and never took to kayaking much. The Black in summer was fine. Rafting the Nanny was a lot of fun, but overall it is just too cold.
7. Check the fit of their boat and gear often. My son Andy had a foot entrapment scare when his little kayak was a bad fit after one of his growth spurts. We were standing right beside the boat while he was practicing hip snaps on the Black, but it pretty much ended decked boats for him. He duckied and rafted after that and enjoyed it a lot, and is beginning to make sounds like he wants to boat again.